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April 01, 2009  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

How Secure Is Your Bus Yard?

Not just limited to fences and cameras, modern strategies for bus yard security include working with law enforcement, training personnel and conducting a risk assessment of your facilities.

by Claire Atkinson, Senior Editor


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The most common reasons for school bus operations to fence off or otherwise secure the bus yard are vandalism and theft, particularly of two-way radios and other expensive electronic equipment.

Beyond that, operations must also now take anti-terrorism measures into consideration, as government officials have identified school buses as potential targets for terrorist activities.

Operations of all sizes have taken precautions to secure the bus yard. For those still looking for ways to start, there are many resources available to guide equipment purchases and facility upgrade decisions.

The National School Transportation Association (NSTA), in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the U.S. Department of Education and school bus operators, has developed a list of security-related action items for school bus operations, divided into recommendations for management, facilities, equipment and personnel. (The full list is available online at http://yellowbuses.org/documents/25actionitems.htm.)

Management strategies
Transportation managers must establish procedures and policies for their school bus facilities in order to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed to enter and to protect school property. The Top 25 Action Items include developing plans for emergencies, staging practice drills with local emergency first responders and law enforcement, and developing a communications plan to contact parents and school administrators in the event of an emergency.

The action items also specify that operations should have updated route sheets and passenger lists available at all times. It is also critical to establish authorization policies for personnel, so all employees are aware of what areas are restricted to certain personnel only and who is authorized to take bus keys, enter the garage, etc.

Securing facilities
NSTA’s list of action items recommends that operations conduct a risk assessment of facilities, including bus yards, garages, dispatch locations and driver areas. The recommendations include limiting access to bus parking areas and restricting the entry to one gate.

Fencing, lights, video surveillance and other security measures should be installed as needed, and operations should contact police to include the bus facility in their regular patrols.

The document also emphasizes that school bus operations must reduce the tolerance for security anomalies, such as overdue or missing vehicles, entry into the bus yard by unauthorized persons and unverified visitors.

Craig Baker, director of buildings, grounds and transportation, has been employed at Middlebury (Ind.) Community Schools since 1997. In 2005, vandals entered the bus yard and deflated the tires on several buses. After the incident, security equipment was installed to monitor the area, including camera coverage for 75 percent of the parked buses.

Since then, Baker says there have not been any incidences of vandalism among the school buses parked inside the fenced compound on campus.

Clark County Public Schools in Las Vegas has five bus yards located throughout the metro area. Each yard is monitored with closed-circuit cameras, says Director of Transportation Frank Giordano. Two of the yards are operating 24 hours a day on weekdays, but anytime the yards are not in operation, a contracted security service is present.

Both districts have secured their bus yards with chain-link fencing that is locked when personnel on site leave for the day.

Police presence
At the Middlebury bus compound, local and county law enforcement agencies randomly patrol the campus, Baker says.

For larger districts that have their own campus security forces, patrolling bus yard locations may be part of the daily routine.

At Clark County, some of the district’s security vehicles are based out of the bus yards, both for the deterrent effect and out of logistical concern. “Vegas has become a pretty spread-out area, so [campus police] just report to the yard, pick up their cars and go on patrol,” Giordano explains. “As those guys come and go on their different shifts, there’s usually a couple cars parked in the yard.”

{+PAGEBREAK+} Camera capabilities
Giordano says the closed-circuit camera system at Clark County’s bus yards was installed about five years ago after two-way radios were stolen out of parked buses. “It was a big media event here in town,” he says. “So the district stepped up and committed [funds to install security systems].”

The camera system is accessible by Internet, so Giordano can log in any time from any computer to view the yard remotely.

Middlebury also has security cameras installed, which have picked up intruders on school perimeters and inside buildings in recent years. Baker says the school buses parked at drivers’ residences overnight still see some vandalism.

In some cases, it might be possible for the operation to purchase inexpensive equipment, such as fake security cameras or motion-sensitive lighting at the driver’s home to deter vandals.

Operations typically add security and safety technology as it is made available and affordable. “We are in the process of converting our in-bus cameras to digital — a slow process,” Baker says. “I would accelerate that if we could.”

Giordano comments that his school district has investigated other, more high-tech security equipment, “but it’s just kind of cost-prohibitive for us,” he says. “We’re in a huge budget crisis here now, and I don’t see us doing anything to enhance beyond what we’re doing right now, unfortunately. I think most school districts are probably in the same boat.”

The main transportation offices for Clark County are located in a new facility that’s just two years old, Giordano says, so it was the first bus yard built at the district with modern security concerns in mind. “It’s hard to retrofit,” he says. “I think anybody today that’s building a new modern facility would install [security equipment] automatically.”

Training for drivers
NSTA’s action items recommend providing photo identification for drivers to wear while on duty and establishing crisis codes that drivers can use to alert dispatch if they are in trouble. According to the document, drivers should also be trained to report suspicious persons or incidents at the bus facility or on route, to never leave a bus unattended while running and to always take the keys with them, and to check the bus for foreign objects inside and outside anytime a bus has been left unattended.

Middlebury drivers, like all school bus drivers in the state of Indiana, receive mandatory anti-terrorism and security training through a video provided to all schools through the office of state director Pete Baxter.

Giordano notes that concerns for safety have increased in the years since Sept. 11, 2001. “We’ve trained the drivers and heightened their awareness to report anything strange,” he says. “Any people that don’t belong in the yards, if you see anybody strange, report them immediately. In the evenings when our staff is reduced and it’s just our maintenance personnel in the garages, they close the gates.”

The district has also been in touch with the city’s Metropolitan Police Department and law enforcement from surrounding townships. “They’ve come in and told us to heighten our awareness with the drivers, and if there are any suspicious people, to call them,” Giordano says.

Additional resources
Many states provide school bus security resources and information through the Department of Transportation or state school transportation director’s office. In addition, the operation’s insurance provider may provide risk assessment services or security consulting to help identify and prioritize security improvements.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has established a security call center, through which school bus drivers can report highway security concerns — the number is (888) 217-5902. At the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s conference in November last year, Bill Arrington encouraged school transportation officials to contact TSA for a security review of their operations. Arrington is the agency’s general manager of the Highway and Motor Carrier division. Also available is the agency’s School Transportation Security Awareness DVD. Operations can request a copy from [email protected].


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